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Destroying Budapest

My science-fiction work-in-progress is set in a single city, and I needed to see it to imagine living in it. Welcome to Pest! Only walk on gray parts….

Pest, the White Lake and the Soft Lands

Budapest was a proxy in the One-Day War between Greater Russia and Umoja East Africa. Buda is now the White Lake, a boiling toxic waste of microscopic robots that eat carbon dioxide, and anything else, to make diamonds that wash on its shores. Both embargoed no-person’s-land and boomtown, Pest houses thieves, smugglers, engineers, and skaters, daredevil gladiators who jump and spin over the Lake in maglev boots, just one fall from death.

I suppose I could have done any old thing to ruin a city, but I wanted a dusting of Science! in my fiction. I thought a fractal would make a believably consistent result small enough for microscopic robots to store. I used FractalWorks, a Mac app, to generate a tiny portion of the celebrated Mandelbrot function, and overlaid this on a large screenshot of central Budapest, so its finer arcs and whorls were the length of city blocks.

Budapest map and Mandelbrot sliver

Budapest map and Mandelbrot sliver

I didn’t think at the scale of blocks it could ever be so precise – if nothing else, land would collapse – so I cut out the Lake using an image editor’s predictive selection tool, to make the edges sloppy and eroded.

Both the pink and white areas are products of the fractal. The white is the Lake itself, while the pink represents Soft Lands, areas of shifting underground streams through which nanites recharge, around which smugglers tunnel.

It’s been a huge help to have the reference. Putting my characters on a literal map lets me figure out relative distances, and helps me imagine the land and the city that might grow from it.

I also thought further about my mechanical monster’s makeup. Where Lake meets land has always been seductively quiet, since earliest drafts. Instead, let the meeting of Lake and Soft Lands be a place of churn and upheaval, the turbulence of nanites going into and out of dormancy around the buzz of other nanites quantumly-uncertain just where their strange fractal stops. I have a heart murmur too.

It’s easier to name things in the context of the city’s weird sense of humor now, and I’m looking at it as more impressively built than previous drafts. Where before it was falling apart and hastily erected, now I see it as printed and reprinted, strange but regular, by the same artificially-intelligent drone “taxibots” that run the city services. This has new virtues and a very different look. And some rewriting.

If this map gets reproduced in the book, I don’t want the plain line drawing quality of most novel maps. Rather I’d commission a graphic artist to generate a cityscape, degrade that so it looked like a 12th-generation-photocopy of an old image, have all the landmarks written in sloppy marker. At top: “Welcome to Pest where you will likely die.” At bottom: “Wanna know more? Live and learn.”


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AwesomeCon DC 2016 – this weekend!

AwesomeCon is a large fan convention in Washington DC this weekend, focused on visual media – this year especially, it’s a Whovians paradise. Are you going?

Saturday will just be splendid fun, but the Friday and Sunday sessions have several good panels for my booklife.

I’m hoping to see: Comics in WWII, Giant Robots, Strong Women Characters, Nanobots – which together cover my debut novel, my serial novel, and my crazy SF work-in-progress – and attend at least one of the marketing panels. Continue reading


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My return to writing, via NaNoWriMo

I have long been absent from public life and social media. In July I had severe medical problems – short-lived, thankfully, but requiring rest.

In some way, the medical problems deflated me. My mood, always a little low to begin with, got lower still. I could manage family obligations, and family joys, but I was discouraged, and lost my way in my booklife.

I am still finishing the serial. But, in my lows, I saw that both my novel and the serial are very rigid stories, requiring a lot of facts or details from the real world. I wanted to give my imagination a free rein.

Thus I am doubling down on my existing commitments to the serial by doing NaNoWriMo, an attempt to put down fifty thousand original words of a new novel (as much as The Great Gatsby plus a long Sunday magazine article) between November 1 and 30. Continue reading


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The new novel

On November 18th of alternate years, Mr Earbrass begins writing ‘his new novel’. Weeks ago he chose its title at random from a list of them he keeps in a little green note-book. It being tea-time of the 17th, he is alarmed not to have thought of a plot to which The Unstrung Harp might apply…
–Edward Gorey, The Unstrung Harp

I finished a novel this year, finally. It took me a very long time to write and rewrite, and I am still unsure what I am doing commercially as I look for an agent.

Fellow writers immediately asked me what my new novel would be.

Honestly, I had no idea. I still don’t. This may be what a generous person could call a process. Just as Demon did, the new novels seem to be finding me. A local web newspaper asked me to try a serial historical mystery. My last short story has the seeds of a short novel.

But the push seems unseemly. I want to date a bit after my long divorce. It won’t take so long next time. Of course, it will take less time if I immediately put to work the skills I just mastered.

Thing is, there is a professional value in having short work to submit. If it is strange and niche, so be it, better I learn this now; but I also have two modern-day stories in outline. Skills I honed on the novel get used in all writing. I’ve certainly learned to keep things brief in the first draft, to save editing later. It can always grow, in depth and richness — start by making it move.

The question of genre is bedeviling. My genre is dense stories of problematic people failing to connect. I don’t see good actors only appearing in one kind of movie (though that does happen in New York stage theater). I just want to be a hydroponic medium for stories, a special streamlined soil in which they can grow colorful and strange.

Perhaps this is too much to ask. I will have to see where I find a toehold.

I am sorry to have been away for a while. I thank my continued readers and commenters (even on a tech post!)


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The Autumn 2013 Plan

Speaking strictly commercially, I did everything wrong with my writing. I don’t have an identifiable genre or sub-genre. It’s a literary noir-styled fantasy thriller romance and an allegory about globalization and growing up. There’s no shelf for that. Crossing genres and styles is gaining popularity, but it’s still a hard sell to make cold.

Perhaps I could have written odd short stories and gained a following, but my novel had too strong a pull. And of course I had to write it five times over. And it’s still a big book.

So. There it is. Nothing to do about it now but change course.  Continue reading


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Science fiction as time travel

I grew up on a solid diet of science fiction, and as a young man in the 1970s and 1980s I had a wide range of style to choose from — New Wave, Old Guard, the Cyberpunks. To read them all at once was like the old Evolution of Man posters, the history of the future all in view.

Like the time-traveler who uses knowledge of the future to succeed, I became a technology early-adopter by reading science-fiction. When I saw it happening for real in the 1980s, as limited and clunky as it was, I already knew what it was going to be. Twenty years ago I even lucked into a job in the field, first learning then explaining to others just what “online” was. That job is done.

I am running out of futures.

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